The Ultimate Guide for College Students to Find and Apply for Scholarships

Higher education is an ever-increasingly expensive experience. The College Board reports that average tuition costs rose by 21% just in the 10 years between 2010 and 2020. That’s a massive leap in such a short amount of time.

We all know that high amounts of student debt are a common stressor among graduates. It’s tough to start your career so far in the hole. That’s why it’s so important to do all you can to reduce (or altogether avoid) your total student debt.

There are several ways to do this, including saving money beforehand, working through school, and using student discounts. But one of the best ways to reduce your total loan amount is to use scholarships to help pay for your schooling.

How to Find Scholarships

Scholarships can be found from a variety of sources. They are typically offered by colleges, private companies, and nonprofit organizations. And there are multiple ways to go about finding these opportunities. Search high and low, so you can maximize your award amount.

Check with your school

If you’re in high school, check with your guidance counselor. They may know of scholarships being offered by the school or community that you can try for.

If you’re in college, check with the financial aid office regularly. Again, they may know of unique opportunities not readily visible online or elsewhere. And applying for less-known scholarships gives you greater chances of winning, as these tend to be less competitive.

Search on the Internet

There are plenty of websites that allow you to search for scholarships and apply, although some will simply give links to the original source of the scholarship so you can apply there.

For example, The U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop is a resource on various careers, salaries, training required, time and cost investments for that education, and financial assistance options for schooling—including a free scholarship search tool to find opportunities throughout the country.

As you search online, be careful to avoid scams. If a scholarship or financial aid application asks you to pay money, stay away. You should never have to pay money to apply to be awarded money.

Look for state and local options

States, cities, and communities may offer scholarship opportunities, as well. With fewer applicants, these often will have less competition and more chances for you to win.

Check with non-profit organizations, city governments, religious organizations, and community groups. Search and ask around at your public library for local opportunities. You may even ask your employer (or even your parents’ employers) if they offer any scholarships or assistance with tuition payment.

Remember to look for grants, too

While scholarships and grants are both considered “gift aid,” scholarships are often given based on merit, and grants are typically based on need.

In addition to Pell Grants (federal), there are also state grants and even local grants. Start by filling out the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA) to be considered for federal grants. Then look around in your community for other opportunities.

You might find available grants based on what you plan to study or your income level. Keep in mind that many require you to keep up your academic performance to continue receiving funds.

Types of Scholarships

What are scholarships based on?

Scholarships are given for all sorts of reasons. As mentioned earlier, they are typically merit-based, but there are a variety of merits that could potentially qualify you for a scholarship. These include:

  • Academic performance
  • Athletic ability
  • Musical talent
  • Unique hobbies or skills,
  • Coming from a particular demographic or underserved community
  • Financial struggle
  • Community service or volunteer work

Essay scholarships vs. easy scholarships

The application process can look very different for different scholarships.

Many scholarships ask you to complete an essay based on a prompt. The winner is selected based on the essay—and sometimes nothing else. Other times, the essay is considered with multiple other factors to determine the best candidate for the award.

There are also many easy scholarships available that require very little effort to apply for. These can be a great option, especially when you don’t have a lot of time available but still want to keep applying regularly.

Of course, scholarship applications may require something totally different, such as an audition (for musical ability), a video presentation, or a work of art. Just make sure you allot yourself enough time to complete the application for each scholarship you try for.

Make Your Application Stand Out

Some scholarships will have a lot of competition to go up against. Here are a few tips to make your application stand out from the masses:

  • Precisely follow ALL directions for application submission. Some people miss these little details, which can immediately disqualify them from consideration, even if they’re an otherwise good candidate.
  • Take a creative approach to your application.
  • Submit well ahead of the deadline.
  • Complete the FAFSA. Some scholarships actually require this before applying, but it’s a good idea regardless.

Don’t Stop Applying!

Remember to keep applying for scholarships even after you’re enrolled in college.

It’s so often emphasized to apply for scholarships (and other aid) while still in high school. Applying to as many as possible as early as possible can increase your chances of receiving awards.

But it’s usually not said enough that current college students can continue applying for scholarships and grants while enrolled, earning award money for future semesters. Regularly check in with your financial aid office to see if any new opportunities have come up. Every little bit helps, so don’t stop applying!

Your education is a critical step to set you up for success in your career and for the rest of your life. Be intentional in setting the academic and financial goals to help you make this step. Put in the time and effort, and you may be surprised at the funds you can earn when you really apply yourself.